On May 13, 2013 the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) presented OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet with the President’s Award for Distinguished Public Service, ASAP’s highest honor. ASAP also gave the Director’s Award for Superior Public Service to the National Archives’ own Public Interest Declassification Board. Congratulations, Miriam and PIDB — we are so proud of you!
In presenting Miriam with the award, ASAP President Scott Hodes noted her work in FOIA at the Justice Department, in NARA’s General Counsel’s office during the 1990’s, as legislative counsel for the American Library Association, at the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization in Paris and then back at NARA in 2009 to set up and direct OGIS. In her acceptance speech Miriam remarked that she and FOIA “grew up” together, and how proud she is to be a part of FOIA’s maturing as the law now emphasizes mediation rather than litigation.
The awards session also included a keynote address from U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth. Judge Lamberth is particularly notable in the FOIA world because he hears more FOIA cases than any other judge in Federal court. FOIA lawsuits by any requester maybe filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Lamberth shared several observations accumulated from years of working with FOIA.
- “I think judges are too likely to give total deference to Exemption 1 claims,” said Judge Lamberth of the exemption which protects classified information from release. FOIA’s 20-working-day time limit for agencies to respond to request “is pretty unworkable,” he said.
- Requesters should have a little understanding when it comes to agency FOIA operations. “The government doesn’t have infinite resources—many requesters don’t get that,” he said. “Requesters need to be more realistic about what they can expect.”
- Government employees are “promoting democracy by providing the public with a right to know.”
There were lots of nodding heads in the room as Judge Lamberth spoke. We at OGIS look forward to continuing to work on the potential improvements to FOIA he highlighted.